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William Yeh Interview

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Equilibrium Interview
William Yeh

 The Interview

JenGe: William, I just want to let you know how thrilled I am that you are willing to share with us your experience on Equilibrium.  Many of us fan have come to love this film so much and are fascinated by varying as well a every perspective of it.  Thank you!!


William: You're welcome, and thank you for creating such a kickass website!


JenGe: It really is all my pleasure.  I'm just glad I was in the right place at the right time to do it.

First off and purely for my own satisfaction how did you come to find the fansite in the first place?


William: When EQ came out in theaters, I was working on location in Marrakech, Morocco, on another project.  Naturally I was disappointed in EQ's limited release and critical savaging.  Then I got an e-mail from Ninon Tantet, our Associate Producer, linking to a positive review by Nick Nunziata at CHUD.com, a site I hadn't previously heard of.  On the message boards there I noticed that a certain "JenGe Chick Flick Destroyer" was especially passionate about the film.  She started a dedicated website and it became an oasis of EQ love that provided me with encouragement while I was toiling halfway around the world.


JenGe: I'm surprised my enthusiasm didn't scare you.  I forget people are actually reading those boards.

Are you surprised by the fan response to this film?


William: No.  During our test screenings we had people screaming and cheering, so we knew it would resonate with audiences.


JenGe: How is it that you came to work on Equilibrium?


William: Tom Rolf, the original editor, brought me on to assist him at the beginning of the project.  When it appeared that we were winding down, he moved on to edit the John Woo film Windtalkers.  Turns out we would have quite a bit more time to work on EQ, so Kurt grabbed me and said, "Let's continue cutting."


Walldude: You have a number of credits in your filmography as a "lightworks editor" & an "editor."  What is the difference?


William: Lightworks is the name of a particular type of editing software.  On those "Lightworks" projects I was responsible for the computer end of things (as opposed to the 35mm film end).


Walldude: How much collaboration was there? Was Wimmer standing over your shoulder the whole time, were there studio suits there?


William: The short answer: Wimmer wasn't standing over my shoulder the whole time.  He was sitting on a couch behind me.


The long answer: On studio films, the editor cuts during photography and is given a short period after wrap to assemble the film alone.  Then the director gets a couple of months to work with the editor to create the Director's Cut.  Then the studio gets involved.


As a result of this process, the director and editor end up stuck in the same room for many hours a day for months on end--so they had better learn to collaborate.  On EQ Kurt occasionally would say, "See what you can come up with," as he did with the scene at the end of the movie where Preston shoots up the video control room.  Almost always, though, our motto was "Let's try it"--we'd examine a scene meticulously, cutting all kinds of versions then making tiny adjustments until it worked perfectly.  The scene where the Sweepers catch Preston with the puppy--it seems like we spent forever on that.


As for the studio, they pretty much left us alone and gave us the time we needed.


NoClockThing: How do you get the source material organized such as the different takes?


William: With lots of help--we had an assistant editor in Berlin, Simone Hofmann, organizing hundreds of thousands of feet of film during photography.  Back in L.A. we had another great crew--Doug Kunin, Tim Alverson, Brian Day, Brian Addie and Mark Martin--keeping track of those miles of film as well as thousands of versions of visual effects shots.


The job of running an editing room is somewhat like that of a librarian--since we have to be able to locate any frame of film at any given time, we assign a unique name and code to each take.  In the computer, we compile this information into a database.


MisterAnderson: What non-linear suite did you use to cut the film (Avid, etc) & what were the specs of the PC/Mac you used?


William: We cut EQ on the aforementioned Lightworks.  The version we were using operated on a DOS-based PC so ancient it had two hamsters powering the CPU.


Walldude: Is there anything in Equilibrium that you are particularly proud of and/or something special that we should look for?


William: I'm terribly proud of the ending gunfight in the Hall of Mirrors (there are no mirrors, I know, but that's what it was called in the script).  There wasn't an obvious solution to that scene and we worked at it until we found one.  Then we refined it and made it even better.


The darkroom fight at the beginning of the movie is notable because it represents an effective collaboration between the Editorial and Visual Effects departments.  Tim McGovern, our Visual Effects Supervisor, was able to seamlessly combine many different live-action elements to make the scene convincing.


I think the members of this website have already uncovered the movie's little secrets (Kurt's cameos, etc.).  The only thing I can think of that you guys might not know is about the two Sweepers who get shot in the face in the puppy scene.  For the close-ups on their eyes we used guys from our crew, Doug and Brian A.  (Then again, maybe that's more interesting to us editing types.)


JenGe:  Were you involved in the original editing of the Beethoven sequence to the Karajan rendition and if so how does the current version compare?


William: It doesn't.  I mean, the current version works well in the film, but you can only go downhill after starting with a nearly flawless musical performance.  It happens all the time in film editing, falling in love with the temp music.  In this case, the Karajan version helped us discover the true nature of the scene, so it still served a valuable purpose despite not ending up in the final product.


JenGe: Kurt Wimmer has a lot of praise for you on the DVD commentary.  He made the following remark, "William had the attraction of being one of the few people who was actually an advocate of this film [whilst] we were shooting it, and was optimistic about what this film could be. And I promoted him, and he and I proceeded to tear this film apart frame by frame, left no frame untouched, and I have to say it was in that period of time that I really learned everything I know about the character of a film as distinguished by the exterior appearance of a film which I brought to the cutting room already. It's almost like the difference between a beautiful woman, you see her and she's beautiful, but then you've gotta talk to her and you gotta see what her character is. That's what I mean by the character of the film. I learned everything about creating the character of the film in that time, with William.(1)"  


What was/is your response to a comment like that?


William: Uh...check's in the mail, Kurt!  Or do you take PayPal?


Seriously, it's very important for the editor to be an advocate for the director.  We learned together, and I only wish every job could be that educational.


Did he really say "whilst"?


JenGe:  Actually no...I just checked it and it's a typo in the transcript that has been fixed.  Nice catch!!

Wimmer also makes this comment, "... I went back in with William and recut it and you know it's really extraordinary the alchemy of editing...juxtaposing images.  We seriously recut the scene and then played it for an audience and they went nuts.  They started applauding and it was an amazing lesson for me and William and I applied it to everything else in the film in terms of maximizing, you know, what we had to work with and squeezing every last bit of audience reaction out of it.


I happen to have been one of those that went nuts in the theater so in your experience how can the "alchemy of editing" enhance or detract from a film?


William: Sometimes our focus is expository, such as clarifying story points.  (It's amazing how a small change can affect the audience's perception or comprehension of certain story points.)  And sometimes it gets more grandiose, which is often great fun.  (Editing an action scene is the closest I'll come to writing poetry.)  But we're always working to find the right balance between story and style.


And what seems like alchemy is in fact the collaboration of people in picture (us), visual effects, sound and music.  Steve Flick and Peter Brown, our Supervising Sound Editors, and Jeffrey Perkins and Sam Lehmer, our Sound Re-Recording Mixers, were responsible for creating the sonic atmosphere that immerses you in the movie.  Those wonderful metallic noises and signature "zizz" shooting sounds coming from Preston's (Brandt's?) guns?  Steve created those.


As for the power of Klaus Badelt's music...judging by all those soundtrack threads on the message boards, it seems that the regulars here are already familiar with it.


MisterAnderson:  How long did it take to cut the film in its entirety?


William: I flew to Berlin to start work on EQ on September 11, 2000.  (I know.)  We finished in February of 2002.


JenGe:  You have quite a number of films on your resume.  Was there anything unique about working on Equilibrium?


William: Kurt gave me my break on EQ--it was the first time I've been fully engaged in the creative aspect of film editing at the studio level.  Because of that it remains a milestone in my career.


Walldude:  In your opinion what is the best film(s) to watch in regards to editing?  JenGe:  What films have most inspired you in this field?


William: It's funny, because film editing is sometimes referred to as "the invisible art"--when done well, you don't notice it.  I could get all intellectual and say something like Battleship Potemkin, but really any film you enjoy you can study for editing.  In fact, sometimes you can learn more from a film you don't like.


One drawback of studying finished films is that you don't get to see scenes not included in the final product (for a structural/macro perspective) or where a shot goes after the cut (for an "intra-scene"/micro perspective).  For the structural perspective, DVDs with deleted scenes are quite useful; you can usually see why those scenes were deleted.  The best "intra-scene" -related DVD feature I've seen is on the fourth disc of The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition).  There's a nifty bit called "Editorial Demonstration: The Council of Elrond" that allows you to view footage before and after cuts were made.


All that being said, I'm particularly inspired by Star Wars (of course), The Killer and The Godfather.  Miyazaki's work as well.  For action, almost any Jackie Chan movie.


MisterAnderson: Does the editor also cuts the trailer for the film or is it someone else?


William: Someone else.  I've been asked to assemble informal trailers and find it difficult to switch from a story- and continuity-based mindset to one of quick flashes and highlights.  Trailer editing is its own art and there are talented editors whose primary job is cutting trailers.


JenGe:  What are you currently working on?  Can you give us any scoops on UltraViolet without getting into trouble?


William: Unfortunately, there's a clause in my contracts for both projects which promises grievous bodily harm if I blab.


JenGe:  Was there any difference between editing Equilibrium & editing UV?


William: More hamsters!